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The trouble with Sylvan Grove

Back in the Autumn, the former Director of Housing for Southwark Council, Gerri Scott (now resigned) announced at a meeting with Ledbury residents that the council would be purchasing a brand new block of 80 homes exclusively for Ledbury Estate residents, and these homes would be at council rents.

The news was received by residents with rapturous applause. But where are we now with the promises that were made last year?

After a long delay of more than 5 months in letting the properties - last week, the first few homes started to appear on Southwark Council’s Homesearch bidding list.

Any surplus properties not chosen by Ledbury estate tenants were to go back onto Southwark Council’s Homesearch website, so that other applicants on the Councils housing waiting list could then bid for them. However the council has now u-turned on this pledge and now announced that surplus homes will be offered to Ledbury leaseholders on a shared equity basis.

Some Ledbury tenants have had to pull out of the ‘expression of interest’ list after viewing the eye-watering rent, service charge and council tax increases they’d face if they were decanted into these flats. For some residents, the increase in monthly outgoings would rise as much as 40%, mainly due to the substantial leap in council tax banding.

For those who accept the higher costs, some are already feeling punished for not joining the Homesearch register sooner, thereby missing out on a new home of their choosing. 

The allocations are sorted according to the applicants start date, ie -when they joined the housing register on ‘Band one’ after the crisis on the estate last summer. 

For many residents, leaving Ledbury was a last resort, and backed up by reminders in the weekly Ledbury Estate newsletter, sent out by the council which stated: ‘We know not all residents want to move from the blocks. Some people have enjoyed living on the estate for a number of years and wish to continue to do so. Whilst we are working out the options for the next steps there is no pressure for anyone to move.’ 

In practice, this statement is not quite accurate. Although a decision has not yet been taken on the future of the towers, all residents now know they will have to move out at some stage, at the very least, for major works to take place. For those, particularly elderly and vulnerable residents, there is an obvious pressure to make a decision quickly on remaining within the community and local area, and in the company of their known and trusted friends and neighbours by moving to Sylvan Grove. However, the tenants who joined the housing register last, are effectively also last in the queue.

There are a number of elderly residents on the estate for whom this has been the case. Some residents have spent nearly 50 years living in the Ledbury blocks after they were first opened in 1969. For those tenants, the options for remaining within the community are growing narrower and narrower. On this Southwark council responded: ‘We at the Ledbury office hear a number of requests from residents as to why they believe they should be allocated one of the properties and what they would deem to be exceptional.’

There is the obvious problem of 80 homes not being anywhere near as much as would be required, as the Ledbury Estate towers contain 224 flats. The difficulties are further compounded by the higher costs. One resident said: ‘I would have liked to move to Sylvan Grove, but I just can’t afford it. I would also like to know what Southwark Council has been doing with the rent money I’ve been paying at Ledbury for the past 18 years.’

Today a photograph was released by Southwark Labour ahead of the upcoming local elections showing Southwark Council leader Peter John posing alongside Cabinet member for Regeneation Mark Williams, Cabinet member for Housing Stephanie Cryan and local Ward councillor Richard Livingstone proudly announcing that 535 new council homes have now been delivered by Southwark Labour. We asked Cllr Peter John if the true numbers would be reflected eventually - after they deduct the council homes which go to leaseholders, he responded ‘no not yet’.

Ledbury Action Group are calling for:

* Subsidy of rents/service charges & council tax at Sylvan Grove - we believe the Ledbury tenants should not be punished as they are effectively being decanted

* Extension of offer to leaseholders which doesn’t limit it to Sylvan Grove only, thereby causing an obvious conflict of interest between tenants and leaseholders

* An independent audit of the allocations process for Sylvan Grove properties

* Respect & support for elderly and vulnerable Ledbury Estate tenants in helping them secure a new home and remain in the community if they wish to do so.

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